Pinball Wizards: Ray Montgomery and Steve Schumacher at Amusement Concepts, Inc. in Arnold, Missouri
Story by Jeff Dunlap
Willie Nelson once said that his popular song “Crazy” recorded by country singer Patsy Cline has been played more often on jukeboxes than any other song in America.
“Maybe that was true in the 1960s when ‘Crazy’ first hit the charts,” says Ray Montgomery, president of Amusement Concepts, Inc. in Arnold. “But it’s not true today by a longshot.”
Montgomery is the kind of businessman who knows why.
With his business partner Steve Schumacher, Montgomery co-owns and operates one of the larger jukebox rental businesses serving Jefferson County, metro St. Louis and southwest Illinois.
Amusement Concepts, Inc. — ACI for short — provides more than jukeboxes to its many clients including bars, bowling alleys, movie theatres, restaurants, skating rinks, sports facilities and additional locations.
From its 4,800 square foot office and workshop near I-55, ACI offers more than 14 different types of electronic amusement games and devices that are activated when coins or dollar bills are inserted.
About the only thing amusement games you played as a kid have in common with today’s games is that both the old and new have four metal legs holding them up.
“It’s a different world for today’s equipment,” says Steve Schumacher. “Almost everything is digital and connected to the Internet.”
Thirty Years Young
On September 20, 2018, Schumacher and Montgomery celebrated 30 successful years in business. A generation ago, both worked as employees for the W&S Novelty Company in St. Louis — Ray in field sales and Steve in operations. They purchased W&S Novelty’s amusement inventory when the original owners announced pending retirement. Then they reorganized the company as Amusement Concepts, Inc. and began working to preserve and expand the business. The firm initially moved from St. Louis to Imperial in Jefferson County in 1990, then to Arnold in year 2000.
“Before buying W&S, we were working back when jukeboxes were loaded with 45 rpm records; pinball cost a nickel a game and bowling games did, too,” says Ray. “That was when pinball arcades were popular as locations, and kids would stay there for hours playing different games and racking up different scores.”
Pinball arcades began to fade in the 1970s when more business owners and landlords started installing amusement games, particularly video games, in billiard halls, family entertainment centers, bars and restaurants — and the price of playing a pinball game approached a dollar.
ACI currently maintains a big variety of coin- and dollar-bill-activated amusement equipment and games, including video golf, in virtually every type of location locally where they can be safely installed and enjoyed (http://amusementconceptsinc.com).
ACI exists so its clients can make money while ACI also makes money as customers enjoy the amusements. Ray explains how this happens:
“When a new client wants to install amusement equipment so they can generate revenue for their business, we visit their location and evaluate the site, assess the layout and study their customers’ characteristics, amusement interests and demographics.”
“We then recommend the type of equipment and features that we believe will best fit the location style and the target market, and which will potentially generate the most revenue. It may be (digital) darts, it may be foosball or air hockey, a jukebox or a digital punching bag — or a combination of those or additional products that we provide.”
“Our client relationships are based on revenue sharing — there’s absolutely no cost to the client for the equipment and services they use that we provide.”
“Revenue sharing is negotiated with the client at each location,” Ray explains. “The equipment and services that we provide to clients are covered under our costs, not theirs. Revenue sharing is negotiated depending on the size of the client location, and the equipment and services requested by the client.”
“We are a well-established company,” Ray continues. “We buy and own all our equipment. It would be very difficult for a new company to jump into this industry and begin to do business. It is an expensive type of business to establish with the proper array of equipment and services that needs to be offered.”
“We are fortunate to have worked in another amusement company years ago — W&S — and then to buy that company, and grow our own business with lots of hard work and relationship building. This business is very much relationship-based. Top quality customer service means everything.”
Steve adds, “Our business is about moving equipment, installing equipment, servicing equipment and, if necessary, repairing equipment. Every day is totally different. We are lucky to have an experienced, skilled staff of employees who understand the business.”
ACI currently has 12 full time employees, plus Ray in sales management and Steve in service management. “Because everything is digital and Internet based, the technology we rely on is constantly changing,” says Steve. “If equipment breaks down at a client location, it means that client is not making money with that machine until it’s fixed.”
“We work to keep our equipment in excellent condition and generating income,” Steve says. “As part of our client service, we repair, maintain and address any hardware or software issues on our machines. Our service team is on call from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., seven days per week, including holidays.”
Where does ACI find its technicians to work on sophisticated digital technology and Internet connectivity systems that are constantly changing, such as flat screen TVs, sound system design, speakers and wiring for broadband, Wi-Fi or cable configurations, and related software?
“Some of our installation and repair staff worked in military specialties for systems design and maintenance,” says Steve, “and others previously worked in electronics and TV industries. Our young staff members are very smart about computer and Internet systems connectivity for online games and music. Customer service is our top priority.” ACI also employs installation and repair specialists who been with the firm for many years working on amusement equipment.
“The biggest consideration in deciding whether to install equipment in a location is whether the location has Internet access,” says Ray. “Everything in our amusement inventory is computer driven and Internet based. The equipment is linked to routers, or cable or wireless systems connected to the Internet.”
This diverse connectivity enables access to powerful jukebox, video games and other online amusement content choices, ensuring that ACI clients and their customers benefit from wide choices in the industry.
“In today’s world, jukebox selections, for example, are virtually unlimited,” says Ray. “Our online jukebox library provides access to an unlimited selection of classic favorites, contemporary popular songs and chart hits in every musical genre. We can limit or customize the types of musical genres that clients and customers can choose to play. A country music bar probably would not want to choose hip-hop songs, and a rock ‘n roll crowd probably would not want to listen to classical music selections. We make it easy to filter out what people don’t want to see and hear. Our video game and merchandise touch-screen selections work in similar ways. ”
Where does all this leave Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline and the song “Crazy?”
“We don’t care what songs or video games people play — as long as they put money in the application and it makes them happy,” says Steve with a smile.
Story by Jeff Dunlap for City of Arnold